One year ago, Muhammad Ubyed walked into Taco Pica and asked for a job.

Freshly arrived in Saint John from Syria just a few months before, the 20-year-old wanted to make himself useful. 

"I am a hard worker, if you want me," he told owner Santos Ruyan.

But given the young man's limited English, "my mind searched for answers," said Ruyan, who with Fernando and Flor Bregel has run the award-winning Saint John Guatemalan restaurant since 1994.

Muhammad Ubyed

Muhammad Ubyed, who arrived in Canada more than a year ago, is trying to get his sister in Syria to safety after her husband was killed in the bombing there. (Julia Wright / CBC)

"I said, the only job we can give you is as a dishwasher. We will talk by sign language."

Ubyed started off as a dishwasher and quickly learned to help with cooking and service.

Ruyan was prepared to accommodate his newest employee.

Not so long ago, he was in the same situation.

'Pick yourself up with your dignity'

Born in the small Guatemalan city of Santa Cruz Balanyá, in 1980 Santos Ruyan was forced to flee genocide by government forces during Guatemala's civil war. He arrived in St. Stephen in winter, speaking no English. He got a job as a baker, picking up the language on the job and by "talking with people on the street."

Meeting Ubyed, he thought, "that is how I feel when the first time I came in Canada," Ruyan said.

Santos Ruyan

'We see ourselves in Muhammad,' said Taco Pica owner Ruyan, who had to learn a new language, in a new country and culture when he fled civil war in Guatemala. (Julia Wright / CBC)

"No English: just like you are mute. No communication. It's a big barrier.

"We see ourselves in Muhammad, and how we came to a new country, new culture, new language. You have to learn. This is why we try to support Muhammad, because Saint John has been good to us. So we try to give back.

"The system can push you down, but you have to pick yourself up with your dignity, stand up and just do it.

"Sometimes you lose your dream. But your dream will keep you moving. If you don't dream, you're dead. That's how I look at it."

Doaa Ubyed

Muhammad's sister, Doaa Ubyed, 27, walked more than 460 kilometres to reach the Turkish border after her husband was killed in an air strike. Her brother is trying to bring her to Canada. (Julia Wright / CBC)

'There is no one to help her'

Ubeyd's older sister Doaa, 27, was left behind with her husband in Syria when her family came to Canada. Then her husband, Wael, was killed when the grocery store where was shopping was bombed.

"He went to the store to buy milk and water, and he and 60 other people died," Ubyed said.

 'We need borders that are open to new immigrants. If we don't do that, we stay in the same situation. People like Muhammad will build up our country, our society.' - Santos Ruyan

Since her husband's death, Doaa calls her mother "every day crying," he said. "She is scared. It is a bad country for girls — a bad country for anyone there."

Doaa paid more than $2,000 to a guide to show her the route from al-Mayadeen to Al-Bab city, only to spend a month travelling — on foot— more than 460 kilometres. She has found precarious housing in a small apartment in al-Bab.

"Every day there are people fighting there," Ubyed said.

Doaa hopes to reach the Turkish border and claim refugee status.

But every day, her brother said, he worries about his sister, who he hasn't seen in over 5 years.

"There is no one in Syria to help her," said Ubyed.

Taco Pica

Muhammad Ubeyd with fellow Taco Pica workers Ben Morgan, Yunnery Becerril, and Fernando Bregel. It was Fernando, right, who came up with the idea to host the fundraiser at Taco Pica. (Julia Wright / CBC)

Ubeyd dreams of bringing his sister to join her family in Canada.

But under the financial guidelines of the private sponsorship program, the Ubyed family must pay the full cost of Doaa's resettlement: $12,000.

"I cannot give it," said Ubyed, who becomes emotional when he speaks about his older sister. "That is too big numbers for me.

"We tried to bring her to here, but no one would help us. We tried to talk to the government, but they do not answer."

Delicious food in suport of Doaa

When Ubyed explained the situation, Fernando Bregel and Santos Ruyan had an idea.

On Sept. 24, Taco Pica will host a special dinner of Syrian food to raise money to help Doaa.

Ubyed will prepare berak (a crunchy meat pie with cheese inside), ftosh (salad), sambosak (lamb), chicken shawarma, hummus and falafel. The cost is $15 with sittings at 5 p.m. and 7 p.m.

"I know Canadian people, they are a nice people," said Ubyed. "I think they will come to help my sister and eat delicious Syrian food."

For Ruyan, Ubyed represents "the kind of people that we need" in New Brunswick.

"He has a future in this country," Ruyan said. "We need borders that are open to new immigrants. If we don't do that, we stay in the same situation. People like Muhammad will build up our country, our society."

"If you let us, we share the best of ourselves with the community."